By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam
29 April 2017
People think of leaders as men or women devoted to service and by service they mean that they serve their followers. The real leader serves truth, not people
-W B Yeats
The finest pearls in the world come from the Arabian Gulf. Pearls were traditionally graded into five kinds. The pearl of the highest quality, the perfect pearl, is called al -Jiwan. Among all the qualities of leadership, great and small, integrity is al -Jiwan. Integrity implies such rectitude that one is incorruptible or incapable of being false to a trust or a responsibility or to one’s own standards. As the Latin proverb says, integrity is the noblest possession.
The second caliph in Islamic history, Umar Farouq remains a shining comet of piety .He led a very austere life. On several occasions’ foreign envoys and messengers deputed to Umar by their rulers and generals found him resting under a palm tree or praying in the mosque with common people. It was impossible to distinguish the Caliph from the general crowd. Such was the simplicity and earthiness of Umar.
Umar repeatedly exhorted: “People generally hate their ruler and I seek protection of Allah lest my people should entertain similar feelings about me.” Some of his standing instructions to his executive were: “Avoid vain suspicions; keep away from malice; do not encourage people to cherish vain hopes; be careful in respect of Allah’s property in your charge; be accessible to the people; guard yourself against evil men; seek the company of the righteous; attend to your job with due diligence; do not procrastinate in the despatch of state business; watch your subordinates; take immediate action against those who are corrupt or inefficient; and award merit.” All these guiding exordiums, now more than fourteen centuries old, still continue to glow as beaconic emblems.
Here are a few episodes from Umar’s life which give us glimpses of the nobility of this great exemplar of justice.
Umar Picks a Milkmaid as a Daughter In Law
One night, Umar was moving through his capital with his aide Ibn Abbas. They walked from one settlement to another till they came to a locality inhabited by very poor families. While passing by a small hutment, Umar overheard a quarrel in a house and he could guess that trouble was brewing inside. He stopped and overheard the conversation.
The mother was insisting upon her daughter to adulterate the milk by adding water. She said that the money they were earning by selling their milk was not enough to sustain them. She recounted that when she was young, she would add water to milk to boost her profits. She insisted that it was the only way they could increase their income.
The girl was taken aback at her mother’s brazenness. She balked at this preposterous suggestion and retorted back: “that was when you were not a Muslim. Now that we are Muslims, we cannot do it. Dishonesty is a heinous offence.”
The mother stood unmoved and was in no mood to relent. She struck to her stand saying Islam did not prevent her from doing business in the way she wanted.
The daughter was equally determined and stood her ground. She tried her best to dissuade her mother form this evil plan. “Have you forgotten the Caliph’s order? He has prohibited selling milk mixed with water.”
The mother was stubborn. “But the Caliph does not know us; also, we are so poor, how else can we earn our bread?”
The daughter was annoyed. “I cannot practice deception. This income will be unlawful. It will be a violation of the Caliph’s edict, I can’t think of such dishonesty.”
The mother tried to counsel her, “But how will the Caliph or any of his officers know about it. You are foolish; you do not know how to do business. From tomorrow I will manage it by myself. I do not need you anymore.”
The girl remained stubborn. “But remember, I will not allow you do it. I will respect my conscience and will resist your bad intentions. I can’t be dishonest to my Caliph. He may not come to know of this dishonesty, but have you ever thought about Allah who has His eyes on every speck of the earth?”
Sensing the rebellious mood of her daughter, the enraged mother put off the discussion. She turned off the lamp and both went to sleep.
Umar spent a restless night mulling over the daughter’s conversation with her mother and was heady with the feeling of the high level of piety of his people.
In the morning, Umar sent his attendant to purchase milk from the girl. To Umar’s utter disbelief, the milk was absolutely pure. The girl had kept up her resolve. Umar was overwhelmed with the girl’s virtuousness. . Tears rolled down his eyes at this rare display of honesty.
Umar turned to his colleague and sighed with a heavy heart. “The girl has defied her mother for the sake of Allah. I recommend a reward for her?”
“We can reward her with cash” replied Ibn Abbas.
Umar found it too inappropriate for such a great virtue. “Such a girl would become a great mother. Her honesty cannot be weighed in a few coins. I shall offer her a truly befitting her ".
The Caliph invited the daughter and the mother to his court. The mother trembled as she stood before the mighty ruler, wondering why they had been summoned. But the girl faced the Caliph confidently and with great equanimity. There was an impressive dignity about her.
Umar narrated the entire episode to the audience. He recounted how he had overheard the conversation of the mother and the daughter, and how the daughter remained truthful to the commandments of Allah.
Someone suggested that the mother should be taken to task for misguiding the daughter. The Caliph remarked that ordinarily he would have upbraided the mother, but he had forgiven her for the sake of her daughter. Turning to the girl, the Caliph said: “Islam needs daughters like you, and as a Caliph of Islam I fell the best reward I can give you is to own you as a daughter”.
The Caliph called his sons, and addressing them, he said: “Here is a gem of a girl who would make a great mother. My cherished desire is that one of you should take this girl in wedlock. I cannot think of a better wife than this girl who has such sterling character. In matters of wedlock, it should be the character, and not worldly status, that should count.”
Abdullah and Abdur Rahman, the elder sons of the Caliph, were already married. Asim, the third son was still unmarried. He immediately accepted Umar’s offer. With the consent of the milkmaid mother the marriage was solemnized and the girl became the daughter-in-law of the legendary Caliph. From this union was born a daughter, Umm Asim, who later became the mother of Umar bin Abdul Aziz. Umar bin Abdul Aziz became a Caliph. Historians consider him as one of the greatest caliphs in the history of Islamic rule.
While other caliphs of the Umayyad dynasty revelled in luxury, Umar bin Abdul Aziz followed in the footsteps of Umar. It is said that if ever there was a noble caliph after the ‘rightly guided Caliphs’, it was Umar bin Abdul Aziz. By his discerning choice of the milkmaid as his daughter in law, the Caliph had unknowingly laid the foundation of a great and noble dynasty. We need great mothers if we are to build great nations.
Piety of a Poor Boy
The great thinker Al Ghazali records an incident in the life of Caliph Umar which shows the chastity of the character of the common people during Umar’s rule. Abdullah Ibn Dinar relates that the Caliph was once travelling from Madinah to Makkah. It was a practice with the Caliph that during his travels, he would always meet inhabitants to ascertain how far Islamic teachings were influencing their character of the people. This way he could gauge the spiritual health of the kingdom. He asked the boy
On his way Umar noticed a Bedouin boy, who was a slave of a shepherd, herding a flock of sheep at the base of a hillock. Umar got down and asked the boy if he would sell a sheep to him. Without batting his eyelids or pausing for even a moment, the boy answered an emphatic ‘no”. “But why?” asked the Caliph. Because the flock belonged to the owner, and he was just a labour doing his job to earn his bread. “It is my master’s and I am his slave!” “What’s wrong with selling it?” asked the Caliph with his eyes fixed on the innocent face of the boy. “Take this money and give that sheep to me and go and tell your master that a wolf snatched away his sheep.”
The words chilled the boy. He was appalled and aghast at the perfidious suggestion. He stared hard at the Caliph and eyed him with deep suspicion. The poor boy did not know who he was staring at. He gazed at the crest of the hill, and it conjured in his mind the sight of his master. His tone became tougher. “I can deceive my master over there on the other side of the hill. But can I deceive that Great Master who is watching both of us and listening to our conversation?” the boy exploded.
Umar could not hold back his tears at this answer and his mind reverberated with the Qur’anic verse: “We verily created man and We know what his soul whispered to him, and We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.” (Q50:16)
Umar hugged the boy and asked him to lead him to his worldly master, the owner of the flock. On meeting him the Caliph enquired how much had he paid for this slave.” So much”, replied the owner! “Here is that much, take it and set the boy free,” said Umar. What an immense satisfaction Umar must have derived from this profound experience. He kissed the boy and told him with a tearful look, “This word freed you in this life and I hope it will free you in the Hereafter.” (Al-Ghazali, Ihya’ vol. 4, p. 396)
The boy was illiterate and had never read the Qur’an by himself. But he was evidently aware of its message and his moral convictions were so pure that no worldly temptation could seduce him.
The honesty of this tender boy is an eloquent testimony to f the moral and spiritual chastity of Umar‘s people.
Umar’s Wife Acts as a Midwife
One night, Umar saw a Bedouin sitting outside a tent. As Umar approached him, he heard a groaning sound coming from the tent. Upon inquiry, the man remarked that he was a desert-dweller and his wife was in labour. He had come to Madinah to seek help from the Commander of the Faithful—a title for the Caliph. Umar asked him to relax and leave all his worries to him. The Bedouin was in a daze about the identity of the man but was nevertheless at peace with himself.”Don’t worry, God has answered our prayers “, he comforted his wife who was groaning in pain.
Meanwhile Umar promptly went home and shared the problem with his wife, Umm Kulsoom, who readily offered her to accompany him to the tent. . She packed provisions and food items. They soon reached the tent, Umm Kulsoom assisted the women in labour, while Umar made a fire and began cooking a meal for them. After some time, Umm Kulsoom cheerfully announced, “O Commander of the Faithful! Congratulate your guest on the birth of a son.” The Bedouin was flabbergasted. And in the lady’s words he got a confirmation of the identity of the Caliph. He was transfixed in disbelief. Turning to Umar he blessed him in an obsequious tone, “I am overwhelmed with your benevolence. “ He broke down . Umar held him and extolled God’s mercy, “I thank God that I was able to serve you. Come to me in the morning and I will find ways to help you further.” “God be praised,” the Bedouin remarked, “I came to seek Umar and God send Umar to seek me.” The man’s amazement would have been redoubled had he known that the lady who handled the entire midwifery, Umm Kulsoom, was the daughter of Fatimah and grand-daughter of the Prophet.
Moin Qazi is author of Village Diary of a Heretic Banker and Women in Islam: Exploring New Paradigms